Thursday, May 22, 2008

When You Jump Ship and Realize You Can't Swim

Have you ever accepted a job and then realized you made a huge mistake? Many people have been in that position, but how about this one: You accept the job and before you even begin, you decide you've made a mistake and want your old job back. Ever had that happen?

For example, just a few days after University of Florida basketball coach Billy Donovan accepted a job with the Orlando Magic as its basketball coach, he changed his mind.

Statements issued said that even though he had signed a five-year multi-million dollar deal with the pro team, Donovan was conflicted. He said, simply, that he was happy where he was and wanted to stay. After some legal shuffling, his wish was granted and he was allowed to stay in his university coaching job, as long as he didn’t try and coach in the NBA for five years.

While most of us will never be under consideration to coach a pro basketball team or be offered that kind of money, we can probably identify with having second thoughts about a new job.

That kind of "buyer's regret” can be a real problem, because lots of people are going to be very unhappy with you backing out of what is considered a done deal, whether you're making millions or $25,000 a year.

The key: Realizing that once you've made a mistake, you've got to be honest -- and you've got to be quick about it.

You cannot waffle for weeks about your decision. In Donovan's case, he made the decision after only a few days. What he proved is that the new employer must be told immediately, but it must be done in such a way that they are able to feel that you acted with integrity and with respect for them.


Some other key considerations:
* Once you tell the employer you're having second thoughts, it's over. Not only have you cost them money already (headhunter fees, employment ads, recruiting time, etc.), but they have to begin the recruitment process all over again. Or, if they decide to move to the No. 2 person, then that job candidate knows he or she wasn't the first choice -- not a great way for an employer to make someone feel welcome and valued.
* Your old company may not want you back. While you still have the same skills and abilities you had when you walked out the door, they may see it as a sign of disloyalty and say "forget it" or some variation of "@#$ you!"
* Other employers may avoid you. If the new employer had you sign a contract with a non-compete clause, that would mean that other companies will shy away from you because they don't want to risk a lawsuit. You may also run the risk of your professional reputation being sullied because of your actions -- all the more reason to act quickly and honestly.

In this tough job economy, would it be career suicide to walk away from a job offer that you've already accepted?


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12 comments:

Andres V Acosta said...

Great post! Kind of like getting engaged or deciding to have children, your window of opportunity for "second thoughts" is very short; the longer you wait, the more heartache for all involved.

Anita said...

Andres,
Exactly! Sort of like telling your spouse you want to date around a bit...it's going to cause some big problems! Thanks for posting.

Ian said...

Thanks for the post.
I had a similar experience, I accepted a call center job in an industry I wanted. So when I went in to sign the contract and for a tour of the office; I noticed every little thing was in solos, after that I knew that this company was very bad fit.

The decision was to either leave after 3-6 months OR leave immediately, I realized that they can still used their pool of candiates & I won't cost them anything. So I backed-out the next business day after signing.

As Andres said, the "second thought" period is very short. So if you know you need to back-out then do it quickly to minimize any bad feelings or cost.

Anita said...

Ian,
That must have been upsetting...knowing it was a bad fit, but also wanting to get out before it got worse. As you and Andres said, you've got to make a decision, and make it quick. I guess the lesson here is to try and get as much information about a company, and its culture, before you accept a position. Thanks for posting such a valuable insight.

Kathy Simmons said...

Great post. The best advice I ever heard on the subject came from a NETSHARE member who had been recruited to a senior position at a well known company. He resigned within a month. When asked why his response was, "Always jump ship while you can still see the shore!"

Anita said...

Kathy,
After writing this post, I think I've learned that more people have had this problem than I realized. I doubt many people talk about it, since it's sort of a touchy subject, but I've learned a lot just by hearing from people like you. Thanks for keeping the conversation going!

About BullsEyeResumes.com said...

Maybe we could sign a 3-day right of rescission with every new job? (:>

I agree that speed is of the absolute essence. Hopefully, they were sad to see you go and happy to have you back.

A colleague of mine who had accepted a new job stayed on to help her old boss find a replacement. She found herself explaining to potential candidates why she had liked the job, how much the company had grown and that the people were really great.

She literally talked herself back into her old company. Following Andres's theme, she "fell in love" with her company again and chose to stay. She's still there and now her son works there too.

Anita said...

Bullseye,
You know, this is a theme I want to explore some more: falling back in love with your job. I think we sometimes believe that when things get rocky, or boring, we have to jump ship. But maybe we need to remember the good times along with the bad -- just like we do in a personal relationship. Thanks for adding this comment...really gives us all something to think about.

Anonymous said...

Spot on advice, my only comment would be to NOT expect your last company to take you back. I see too many people who believe, because they left on good terms, that they have that safety net in place.
best, GLHOFFMAN
whatwoulddadsay.

Anita said...

You're absolutely right. And, even if they DO take you back, it could be rough because in the back of their minds, they'll always consider you as someone who was disloyal enough to leave in the first place. I've heard lots of stories about bosses who -- upon learning that an employee has been looking around -- will eventually force the employee to leave.

courtingyourcareer said...

Great post. Before jumping ship, it's important to know whether the ship is truly sinking. Do you want to leave because you've outgrown the position, can't stand your boss, for a position that you just can't pass up?

Don't let the emotion of a bad project or a bad week cloud your judgment. If, after you’ve given it some thought, you feel you have irreconcilable differences with your current job, then it’s time to jump ship.

courtingyourcareer said...

Great post. Before jumping ship, it's important to know whether the ship is truly sinking. Do you want to leave because you've outgrown the position, can't stand your boss, for a position that you just can't pass up?

Don't let the emotion of a bad project or a bad week cloud your judgment. If, after you’ve given it some thought, you feel you have irreconcilable differences with your current job, then it’s time to jump ship.